Alister McGrath on the Ernst Troeltsch Objection to the Resurrection of Jesus

alister mcgrath

Here is a common objection to the resurrection of Jesus that I hear from critics and others in academic circles. Alister McGrath addressed it here:

“The third line of criticism of the historicity of the resurrection is due to the German sociologist Ernst Troeltsch, who argued that, as dead men don’t rise, Jesus couldn’t have risen. The basic principle underlying this objection goes back to David Hume, and concerns the need for present-day analogues for historical events. Before accepting that an event took place in the past, we need to be persuaded that it still takes place in the present. Troeltsch asserted that since we have no contemporary experi¬ence of the resurrection of a dead human being, we have reason for supposing that no dead man has ever been raised.

Of course, as Christianity has insisted that the resurrection of Jesus was a unique historical event, the absence of present-day analogues is only to be expected. If people were raised from the dead on a regular basis, there would be no difficulty in accepting that Jesus Christ had been thus raised. But it would not stand out. It would not be different. It would not say anything, either about the identity of Jesus himself, or about the God who chose to raise him in this way. The resurrection was taken so seriously because it was realized that it was totally out of the ordinary, unique in the proper sense of the word.


Nevertheless, a more sophisticated reply to this line of criticism is needed. The most vigorous response to Troeltsch’s criticism has been made by Wolfhart Pannenberg, who pointed out that Troeltsch had adopted a remarkably dogmatic view of reality, based upon questionable metaphysical presuppositions, effectively dictating what could and could not have happened in history on the basis of his preconceived views. Troeltsch, Pannenberg argued, had already laid down in advance that the resurrection could not happen. The argument seemed to move as follows:


a. Dead people do not rise from the dead.
b. Therefore Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead.
c. End of discussion.


But this is unacceptably superficial. The philosophical question of induction, noted earlier, does not allow the conclusion to be drawn from the premise. Observation does not determine fixed laws, which may be used to determine whether something did or did not happen in the past. It merely establishes the probability of events of a certain type.”

To read the full article called The Resurrection by Alister McGrath, see here.


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